TAMPA, Fla. - After 37 years of working to convert gay people from their homosexual desires, Orlando-based Exodus International is shutting down.
Its president, Alan Chambers, apologized for causing trauma and omitting his own same-sex attractions.
"We've hurt people," he said.
Chambers announced plans to create a new organization, " reducefear.org ."
Gay rights groups have had varying reactions, from surprise to gratitude to skepticism. They condemned the group's practice of conversion therapy, the idea that gay people can change to heterosexual desires.
"We're undoubtedly going to get some of that flack, but what does one do with it? We just keep going," explained Mark Culligan.
Culligan founded New Hearts Outreach , Tampa Bay's chapter of Exodus International. It's working on scrubbing the logo from its website, but plans to continue performing conversion therapy.
"There's been pain, agony, but the decision has been made," Culligan said. "It's over. Done."
Culligan is relieved they now have direction.
For years, the group has splintered internally, and many knew the end was inevitable. Still, Culligan believes he's called to continue conversion therapy in Tampa Bay, and says critics should allow them to do so.
The practice is nearly outlawed in California.
"A person should have a right to self-determination. If they want to seek change from homosexuality, wow, they should be able to! This is America!" he said.
Culligan believes the Bible condemns same-sex relationships. He likens it to addictive behavior or desire like drugs or gambling. If clients commit to their counseling and small groups, he believes God's unconditional love can overcome the thoughts and desires of their sexual orientation.
"We find a place of peace where we're really OK, today, right now, just like we are," Culligan said. "I'm still praying for a wife, at my age."
After 20-years of secret sex with men, Culligan says he rarely desires it today.
He remembers a moment in church when two married men prayed with him in church when he came out, spiraling him toward the ministry he continues today.
"Their message to me was, 'Mark, there but for the grace of God go either one of us. We want to be a support to you.'"
Copyright 2013 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
An eclectic mix of world leaders including President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro will eulogize Nelson Mandela at a massive memorial service Tuesday in South Africa. INSIDE: Watch live coverage.